Gweedore no longer the ‘laughing stock’ of Donegal
Midfielder Ó Baoill leading by example as the club bid for a historic first Ulster club title
Daire Ó Baoill: “We were 12-1 to win it [the Donegal championship] this year, look how it just worked out for us. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
It’s not that long since some people considered Gweedore the “laughing stock” of Donegal football, and Daire Ó Baoill knows that because he was one of those laughing at them. Innocence and ignorance is often bliss.
From the outside looking in, they were a team loaded with Donegal players – Kevin Cassidy, the McGee brothers Peter, Eamon and Neil, Odhrán Mac Niallais – who couldn’t come close to winning a Donegal title. Now, looking from the inside out, Ó Baoill can see where it all changed.
“Look, it was in a bad way the last 10, 12 years,” he says, “maybe the laughing stock of Donegal, because of the team we had, and we couldn’t even get out of the group. I think finally winning the county this year lifted the pressure off and we kind of saw where we could be at and how far we could go. We were 12-1 to win it this year, look how it just worked out for us.
“More so for the older boys than myself. I’ve only been playing senior the last two-and-a-half, three years. Because you were always on the other end of giving abuse, when you were growing up. You were kind of listening to the old folks and how they spoke about the team.
“But you can tell the last year-and-a-half, two years, it’s all changed and it’s all positive, what we can do, what we should be doing and things like that. The tradition is mad, even if Gweedore’s golden years were back in the 50s and 60s when we might have won eight or nine championships.”
After winning back the Donegal title this year, their first since 2006, Ó Baoill scored a beautiful hat-trick of goals in their AIB Ulster semi-final win over Crossmaglen, six-time All-Ireland winners, and the club is now on the verge of a first provincial club title – Monaghan’s Scotstown standing in the way in Sunday’s final at Healy Park.
Ó Baoill points to several changes in the 2018 mindset, including Cassidy’s return from retirement.
“After 2006 when they last won the county, and I think Gweedore nearly shut down afterwards, they were out two weeks later [in Ulster] and they only stopped partying maybe four or five days before it. They went out to Crossmaglen and from what I hear, I don’t remember much of it, but they couldn’t get over it.
“And I think that was my first year back when he [Cassidy] hung up the boots. I was gutted that I wasn’t going to get to play with Kevin, someone I’d been looking up to since I was five or six. But Kevin will always say how it is and maybe we needed someone to go about it and tell us straight up, instead of always avoiding what was wrong.
“Listen, we regrouped last year, and the main memory I have of him coming back last year, I couldn’t get over it, we were playing St Eunan’s in the quarter-final, a game we had no right to win.
“Cassidy came on with Rory Gallagher and just the look in his eyes, he meant business, like, he won that hop ball and I’ll never forget it. We got a score out of it or whatever and we kind of drove on from there. This year then he’s actually starting and you have him throughout the year. The likes of the McGees too, the confidence and the wee bit of swagger they have.”
Ó Baoill’s skill and speed around midfield shows plenty of touches of his soccer days, including an U-18 appearance for the Republic of Ireland, when he captained the team against Wales.
“I would have played both when I could get away with it – when I could run twice a day, in two different games. So up until I was 18 or 19 it would have been a big background of mine. But I kind of knew myself it was always going to be Gaelic at the end of the day. I loved soccer, enjoyed every minute of it, so at underage I made the most of it because I knew one day I would have to make a decision.
“I played for Finn Harps U-19s for three years. Then I had a stint with the first team before I gave it up altogether. Then the commitment with the first team would have been the exact same as it would have been with the Donegal U-21s or Donegal seniors, training four times a week too.
“But in the prime years I’d rather just focus on the one, and at the end of the day it was always going to be Gaelic football for me.”